When Atlanta hairstylist Gina Norris (Queen Latifah) becomes fed up with Jorge (Kevin Bacon), the patronizing owner of the upscale hair salon where she works, she quits and opens her own shop. With the help of stylist friends and clients who follow her, Gina’s new shop manages to stay afloat in spite of financial struggles and Jorge’s attempts at sabotage. That’s the threadbare plot of this warm-hearted, woman-powered spin-off of the “Barbershop” films. But what it lacks in complicated storyline it makes up for in laughs. Although the gags are broad and obvious, the silly, likable interplay of the large ensemble cast keeps everything running smoothly, making for a sweetly affecting crowd pleaser. At this rate, Latifah’s next appointment might be “Beauty Shop 2.”
Grade: B Kinsey Scale: 2 (Newcomer Bryce Wilson plays an is-he-gay-or-not metrosexual stylist. No sexual orientation is explicitly stated for Bacon’s effeminate, Eurotrash character. Latifah played gay in “Chicago” and “Set It Off,” while Mena Suvari was a lesbian on “Six Feet Under” and co-starred in “American Beauty.” The rest of the large cast – Alicia Silverstone, Andie MacDowell, Alfre Woodard – has multiple queer-themed and gay-related film and TV credits.)
There is no daylight ever in Basin City, where good cop Hartigan (Bruce Willis) bucks the system to bring down a politically connected pedophile; warm-hearted psychopath Marv (Mickey Rourke) takes on the establishment to avenge a hooker’s death; and gentlemanly murderer Dwight (Clive Owen) fights to stop a war involving police, pimps, and the town’s prostitutes. Based on a series of graphic novels, this ultra-violent neo-noir offers three terrific lead performances and stunning visuals. But beyond the antiheroic trio, the acting is wildly uneven, and this fifth-rate pulp fiction – with its tin-eared dialogue and vacuous triad of stories – is an example of faux hard-boiled style over substance. Writer Frank Miller betrays his lack of imagination with female characters that are nearly all whores.
Grade: C Kinsey Scale: 2 (One of the few females who is not a hooker – a parole officer played by Carla Gugino – is identified as a lesbian. Owen and co-stars Michael Clarke Duncan, Nick Stahl, Rosario Dawson, and Devon Aoki have all appeared in queer-themed movies.)
Loan-shark-turned-movie-producer Chili Palmer (John Travolta) has grown jaded with the industry and decides to move into the music business. He signs on to manage up-and-coming singer Linda Moon (Christina Milian), only to discover – as he confronts Russian mobsters, corrupt management companies, and gun-wielding gangsta rappers – that this new world is even more cutthroat than his old criminal life. The dialogue isn’t always sharp in this sequel to 1995’s popular “Get Shorty,” and this crime comedy suffers occasionally from plodding pacing. But individual performances are often hysterical, particularly Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as a gay bodyguard, Vince Vaughn as a jive-talking music-mogul wanna-be, and Outkast’s Andre 3000 as a trigger-happy hip-hop star. Having the biggest blast of all is Travolta as he charismatically reprises one of his signature roles.
Grade: B Kinsey Scale: 2 (The Rock’s character leans heavily on stereotypes, and many of the characters surrounding him are homophobic and not shy about expressing their sentiments. Director F. Gary Gray previously directed “Set It Off.” Stars Uma Thurman, Debi Mazar, James Woods, and Seth Green have all appeared in queer-themed films.)
Chain-smoking, demon-hunting exorcist John Constantine (Keanu Reeves) is a thorn in Satan’s side. He’s especially bothersome to the devil’s CGI-based son, who conspires with the angel Gabriel (Tilda Swinton) to wreak havoc on earth – little demonic messes Constantine has to keep cleaning up. In the meantime, the overworked devil-chaser also becomes involved with a cop (Rachel Weisz) whose twin sister has committed suicide. Confused yet? You will be if you try to follow the big, sinister goings-on in this stylish but merely passably entertaining comic-book adaptation. It’s all incredibly serious and overblown, and full of eye-popping special effects. But the plot is hellishly mixed up, the characters are paper-thin, and the film’s earth, heaven, and hell all seem like places no one would care to visit for very long.
Grade: C- Kinsey Scale: 2 (Reeves played gay-ish in Gus Van Sant’s “My Own Private Idaho” and also appeared in “Even Cowgirls Get the Blues.” Weisz portrayed a prostitute in “Bent,” while co-star Djimon Hounsou was in the film version of Sandra Bernhard’s “Without You I’m Nothing” and played a man with AIDS in “In America.” Co-star Pruitt Taylor Vince appeared in “Monster.” Swinton, the lone bright spot in this murky movie, was screen muse to the late queer director Derek Jarman, and appeared in most of his movies. She also starred in the queer-themed films “Orlando,” “Love Is the Devil,” and “The Deep End.”)
Spy-school seniors Amy, Dominique, Janet, and Max (Sara Foster, Devon Aoki, Jill Ritchie, and Meagan Good, respectively) are plaid-skirted teen crime-fighters for a secret government agency. But when one of their elite team falls for lesbian master criminal Lucy (Jordana Brewster), will it corrupt their commitment to law and order, or will love conquer crime? The answer is less important than the shiny package it comes in. This effortlessly entertaining trifle is a triumph of cheerful silliness and clever sight gags, heralding a new standard of fun in lesbian filmmaking. It’s full of 007-style spoofing, cheesecake for its own sake, and bold proclamations of its commitment to taking nothing seriously. It’ll blow your skirt up.
Grade: A- Kinsey Scale: 6 (Writer/director Angela Robinson is a lesbian. Co-star Holland Taylor has appeared on “The L Word” and in “Legally Blonde.”)
With her parents, Percy (Bernie Mac) and Marilyn (Judith Scott), about to celebrate their 25th anniversary, Theresa (Zoe Saldana) thinks it’s the perfect opportunity to introduce her boyfriend, Simon (Ashton Kutcher), and announce their engagement. But her African-American family only finds out that Simon is white when they meet him, throwing everyone, especially over-protective Percy, for a loop. This comedy works best when it confines itself to physical bits of slapstick, as when Simon teaches Percy to tango. The rest of it plays like an overlong sitcom, with tired race jokes and hackneyed put-upon-dad gags alternating with moments of cringe-inducing sentimentality. Mac makes the best of an underwritten part with a forceful, charismatic performance, stealing the movie away from bland, pretty-boy Kutcher.
Grade: C Kinsey Scale: 1 (Percy in convinced that the party planner for the anniversary fete is gay, while his wife insists he’s merely metrosexual. There are a few fleeting moments of gay panic when Percy and Simon hit the dance floor and share a bed.)
Date “doctor” Alex Hitchens (Will Smith) is so good at coaching socially inept men at romance that he is even able to engineer a love match between shy, slovenly accountant Albert (Kevin James) and gorgeous socialite Allegra (Amber Valletta). But when Hitch falls hard for gossip columnist Sara (Eva Mendes) and she shoots him down, he is in need of some counseling himself. This pleasant romantic comedy plays up Smith’s ample charm, along with that of his co-stars, and ensures plenty of laughs with liberal doses of slapstick. It is also a glossy confection that delivers a delicious valentine to New York City, as Hitch and Albert take their dates to such notable addresses as Ellis Island and Madison Square Garden.
Grade: A- Kinsey Scale: 1 (Smith played a gay man in “Six Degrees of Separation,” while co-star Matt Malloy has appeared in “Far from Heaven” and “The Anniversary Party,” and in a recurring role on “Six Feet Under.”)
A home invasion turns into a hostage situation that spirals out of control when a cop is killed and a hostage turns out to be a mobbed-up accountant with a delivery due to his employers. To ensure they get their property, mobsters kidnap Police Chief Jeff Talley’s (Bruce Willis) family and offer him an ultimatum: help them, or his family dies. This action thriller begins promisingly with a suspenseful sequence that introduces Talley and demonstrates both his steely resolve and sensitivity. Unfortunately, the rest of the movie fails to live up to that bang-up opening. The plot is hackneyed, the characters are a collection of cliches, and director Florent Emilio Siri replaces the film’s initial suspense with mindless violence.
Grade: C Kinsey Scale: 1 (Co-star Jonathan Tucker played a gay teenager in “The Deep End,” while co-star Ben Foster appeared in “The Laramie Project” and has a recurring role on “Six Feet Under.”)
Casey (Michelle Trachtenberg) is a high-school science geek and an amateur figure skater. To win a college scholarship, she develops a computer program to help figure skaters use the laws of physics to their competitive advantage, and in the process she becomes even more devoted to the sport. When Casey enters and then places in a novice competition, her strictly academic mother (Joan Cusack) disapproves, and the local ice-rink coach (Kim Cattrall) worries that Casey, with her natural talent, will outshine her own skating daughter (Hayden Panetierre). Thematically, this movie follows similar terrain as 2001’s The Princess Diaries. But where that movie demanded its heroine change her appearance and give up her intellect, this gentler, smarter film allows its princess a personality, an education, and some breathing room. It’s a charming, intelligent family movie for girls, but parents will be happy they saw it as well.
Grade: A- Kinsey Scale: 1 (Director Tim Fywell helmed the gay-themed BBC miniseries “Cambridge Spies.” Trachtenberg was a regular on the queer-favorite “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and also had a recurring role on “Six Feet Under.” Cusack starred in “In & Out.” Cattrall was a regular on the gay-adjacent “Sex and the City,” and her character once had a lesbian affair. Figure skater Brian Boitano makes a cameo appearance.)
Melinda and Melinda
Over dinner at a Manhattan restaurant, two playwrights – one known for tragedy (Larry Pine), the other for comedy (Wallace Shawn) – tell their own takes on the same anecdote. Both stories feature Melinda (Radha Mitchell), who in the tragic version is emotionally unstable and wreaks romantic havoc in the lives of old college friends (Chloe Sevigny and Jonny Lee Miller). In the comic version, Melinda is the wacky downstairs neighbor of a different couple (Will Ferrell and Amanda Peet), and she wreaks romantic havoc of a decidedly lighter sort. The somber drama and sex-panic comedy play out in alternating cuts, and, while the juxtaposition can be jarring, it usually works. Meanwhile, Ferrell gives off great waves of neurosis, Sevigny proves why she’s one of the most interesting young actors working today, and, after a series of flops, director Woody Allen returns to classic form.
Grade: B Kinsey Scale: 1 (The large ensemble cast has multiple credits in queer and queer-inclusive films, most notably Mitchell, who starred in “High Art,” and Sevigny, who starred in “Boys Don’t Cry,” “Party Monster,” and “If These Walls Could Talk 2.” Ferrell had a brief cameo as a gay man in “Boat Trip.”)
Million Dollar Baby
When 31-year-old boxer wanna-be Maggie Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank) blows into his gym, down-on-his-luck fight manager Frank Dunn (Clint Eastwood) wants nothing to do with her. Not only is she female, she’s too old to contend for a title. But once she finally wears him down and he takes her under his wing, the two begin a remarkable Cinderella run that transforms both their lives. Paul Haggis’ screenplay is loaded with stereotypes, cliches, and bald emotional manipulation, yet despite these faults, the drama flirts with magnificence. Credit goes to sensational turns by Swank and Eastwood and to Eastwood’s flawless direction as he uses action to illuminate character, expertly staging Maggie’s bouts and their aftermaths so that each deepens the heartfelt relationship between these damaged individuals.
Grade: A- Kinsey Scale: 1 (Eastwood directed the gay-themed “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil,” while Swank took home a Best Actress Oscar for her role as transsexual Brandon Teena in “Boys Don’t Cry.” Co-stars Anthony Mackie and Margo Martindale have both appeared in queer-themed films.)
Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous
FBI agent Gracie Hart’s (Sandra Bullock) last high-profile assignment made her a star, putting an end to her undercover career, so the bureau appoints her as its goodwill ambassador, complete with her own bodyguard in surly agent Sam Fuller (Regina King). But when her friend Cheryl (Heather Burns) is kidnapped, Gracie disobeys orders to jump back into the field. This comic sequel offers occasional laughs but suffers from an uneven tone as it tries to balance celebrity satire with a more traditional crime comedy. Portraying jealous agency bureaucrats who are as villainous as the kidnappers is a misstep, but the satire is worse, since it involves transforming amiable tomboy Gracie into a vain, self-aggrandizing, and arrogant fashion plate. Without a heroine worth rooting for, this comic souffle falls flat.
Grade: C Kinsey Scale: 2 (The movie never explores the apparent sapphic undertones in the Hart/Fuller relationship, but offers Diedrich Bader as a “Queer Eye for the Straight Girl”-type stylist, as well as characters cross-dressing for a drag show. King had a role in “If These Walls Could Talk 2.” Co-star Treat Williams made his screen debut as an FBI agent staking out a gay bathhouse in “The Ritz,” while co-star Ernie Hudson appeared on the queer-themed TV drama “Oz,” and co-star Eileen Brennan has a recurring role on “Will & Grace.”)
The Ring Two
In this sequel to “The Ring” – about a videotape that kills everyone who watches it – the sole survivors return to face more evil goings-on. Reporter Rachel Keller (Naomi Watts) has taken her spooky son Aidan (David Dorfman) and left Seattle, where so much misery befell them in the first film. But ghosts always find a way to haunt those they’ve chosen, and it’s not long before the cursed videotape’s main character – a little dead girl named Samara (Daveigh Chase) – returns to claim Aidan for her own. Audiences used to regular jolts may be disappointed by this moody, creepy second act. The tone, while relentlessly grim, too often lacks the energetic tension required for a “horror” movie determined not to go the obvious route. Still, Watts capably carries the movie, and little Samara remains the stuff of nightmares.
Grade: B- Kinsey Scale: 1 (Watts played a bisexual character in “Mulholland Drive,” and Dorfman appeared in the Don Roos film “Bounce.” Co-star Elizabeth Perkins was in “If These Walls Could Talk 2.”)
Rodney Copperbottom (the voice of Ewan McGregor) is a small-town robot with dreams of going to the big city. Rodney’s a genius inventor, wanting to use his creations to make the world better. But when he arrives, he finds that the city is a harsh place with no room for nice robots. He also discovers that a huge, amoral corporation is out to dominate all of robot life by making the population dependent on its products. To fight the bad business-bots, he enlists the help of new friend and love interest Cappy (Halle Berry), as well as some friendly metal misfits (Robin Williams, Amanda Bynes). And while a happy ending is assured in this family movie, the main draw is the spectacular 3-D animation and the reasonably witty script, both of which keep the moral from going down like sugary medicine.
Grade: B- Kinsey Scale: 1 (In one scene, Williams tosses out an obliquely gay, ad-libbed joke about two male robots bunking together for the night. Otherwise, the huge voice cast – including McGregor, Berry, Williams, Greg Kinnear, Jim Broadbent, and Jennifer Coolidge – has a lot of queer credits on its collective resume.)
The Upside of Anger
Embittered suburbanite Terry Wolfmeyer (Joan Allen) resorts to oceans of vodka to disguise her heartbreak when her husband deserts their family. While this tactic dismays her four daughters, it does nothing to discourage ex-pro baseball player Denny (Kevin Costner) from romantic pursuit of his newly single neighbor. Writer/director Mike Binder’s domestic-drama gem spans three years in Terry’s life as she recovers from her loss and mends her sometimes-fractured relationship with her girls. Allen is terrific as a woman whose brittle surface always seems on the verge of cracking, and Costner, in one of his finest performances, proves to be her perfect match. Binder, who also plays the reptilian boyfriend of one of the daughters, supports his talented ensemble with a script rich in heart, character detail, and caustic humor.
Grade: A- Kinsey Scale: 1 (Allen starred on Broadway in Lanford Wilson’s “Burn This,” while Costner was in Oliver Stone’s “JFK.” Co-star Alicia Witt appeared in “Cecil B. DeMented.”)